By Lauren McEwen
Hip hop is tired of being hip-hop. Kanye is diving further into fashion, Lil’ Wayne is engaged in a torrid affair with rock & roll, and everyday a new rapper starts a film career. Some fans claim that artists need to branch out creatively to express themselves, while some cynics scream that strolling down every media avenue is just a shrewd attempt at getting rich. Whatever the case, spreading talent too thin leads to a decline in quality music. Cliché rants about Hip hop being dead come to mind. Just as we were all beginning to dread flipping on the radio, fresh voices are pumping in new blood to revive the music industry.
Such is the case with U-N-I, a rap duo hailing from Los Angeles, California. Their music seems to immediately connect with people. After releasing their first mixtape, Fried Chicken and Watermelon in 2007, U-N-I has been receiving increasing amounts of recognition from both listeners and the press, with growing coverage and performance opportunities. Avid rap heads have greeted each offering with the same greedy anticipation. Their follow-up mixtape Before There Was Love caused the blogosphere to ignite with reviews and promises of free downloads, and their latest musical contribution, A Love Supreme, which features the insanely catchy single “Hollywood Hiatus” enjoyed a similar welcome.
The men behind the music are members, Yonas “Y-O” Micheal and Yannick “Thurzday”Koffi. They met in high school in 1999. After realizing their mutual love of music, they began to devote their lunch periods to defeating cocky upperclassmen in rap battles. They soon joined a four-man group called Rap-Ture Kamp, but in 2006 they splintered off and began to work together. They derived their name from The Roots’ track “UNIverse at War,” one of their favorites, and have been sprinting after their shared goal of rap fame ever since, using mixtapes and performances to get them closer to their dreams.
They have made significant progress. Not only have their Google hits risen to internet-celebrity status, but their developing resume includes making Billboard Magazine’s “Acts to Watch” list and the 2008 MTV Video Music Awards “Best Breakout LA Artist” award.
Although this heightened interest in the duo means they are successfully breaking into the music industry, it also leaves room for lazy comparisons and knee-jerk expectations. Some take a glance at U-N-I’s mutual appreciation for bright colors and Y-O’s mohawk and instantly label them as “hipsters.” Others immediately assume that they will spout the g-funk that is heavily associated with the Los Angeles area. However they seem to be different, more honest. Their music centers on their individual memories, goals, shoe fetishes, and celebrity daydreams. There is a certain level of self-awareness in their lyrics, as they allow their clever rhymes and well-delivered punch lines to speak for themselves.
Check out their latest release “Land of Kings”:
Thurzday: It comes from the people we grew up listening to Mos Def, Talib, Redman, Nas, Biggie; we were really influenced by Prince, listened to that reggae music and all that stuff, so we really loved music.
Y-O: We basically met in my freshman year and Thurzday’s sophomore year at St. Bernard High it was 1999. We met during lunchtime when we were either playing basketball, or on the courtyard doing freestyles up against upperclassmen and we just became the talk around campus, because we just demolished these upperclassmen who just thought they were just the ish and we did a talent show and joined a four man group during our high school years, we put out a couple of mix tapes, albums, and the request that they wanted to hear myself and Thurzday [do something together] so finally we made that division and we hopped out in ’06 and followed that with Fried Chicken and Watermelon in the year 2007.
Thurzday: Because 9-5’s are wack! I couldn’t see myself doing anything else that made me happy. This is what I wanted to do since I was a kid. Some people wonder why –it was like, the only thing we wanted to do as far as having a career. I looked up to people who’ve done it and I could never see myself doing anything else.
Y-O: Well, music has always been a part of our lives. I can tell you that growing up as a kid there was always music being played in our houses. But, before I got deep into music, there was always basketball, and with basketball, you know, you warm up to music. So, I noticed as I got older music has just always been something that was a part of me growing up as a kid and it just always made me feel so happy. When you write rhymes it’s just a way of [releasing] some stress off, getting stuff off your mind, and just putting it in your own words, and it just makes you happy; makes you get through the day easier. So, when we did the talent show in high school and just hearing the people’s reaction that kinda, like, made me feel great and I said to myself, “This could be a future; something I could do later on down the line.” So, just getting older and older and doing more shows—I guess I just took it more seriously and people respected it.
Thurzday: We’re not anybody else. We’re only us. So that’s like the only thing that makes us different from anybody. Everybody hasn’t lived our lifestyle. Everybody hasn’t experienced what we’ve experienced. So, through our own voice, we project who we are throughout our music. And it’s nobody but us. So, that’s really what makes us original. We’re true emcees. You know, we’re not a gimmick act. We really have talent, and we display that.
Y-O: And just to back him up. Our music is about things that actually happened in our lives, but outside of that, our live shows. I would say that It should be mentioned that even though we don’t have the biggest amount of money backing us up, we’re able to put our minds together-myself, Thurzday, our DJ and sometimes our band-and we just put on a live [ass] show, which some artists are not able to do these days.
Y-O: Yeah, that’s a true story, once again. The song was basically inspired just from me having a crush on Lauren London, and I brought it up in the studio, with Ro Blvd, and we were just all joking and laughing about it. Everybody was like, “Yeah, she’s hot”. So, we started laughing about it, and it eventually turned into a record. She actually heard the record, and I guess it put a smile on her face. I thought she responded on Twitter, and she hit us up, well a fake hit us up, saying she loves the music, and she was acting real brand new. Then I remembered months ago that she’d heard it, so I was like “This can’t be Lauren” so I asked her a question about a mutual friend and she had no clue who I was talking about, so that kinda like, brought me down cause I thought I was really talking to Lauren London and come to find out it was a fake, man.
Thurzday: We basically got an idea to take the original “C.R.E.A.M”, from Wu-Tang, and apply it to our lifestyle and a lot of folks were into kicks at the time, so we changed it to “Kicks Rule Everything Around Me”. We shot a video for it, and it took off.
Y-O: To be bigger than Kanye, with more money than Bill Gates.
Thurzday: Starts with quality music, and a quality team and you can do anything.
Y-O: Step outside the box, just be yourself, and have fun—always have fun.
Download their music at www.yothurz.com